Monday, 22 November 2010

Why you shouldn't follow the Star (or Mail, or Metro, or Telegraph) this Christmas

The managers of a chain of care homes in Devon are the crazy PC bigots du jour after the West Country arm of Guinness Care & Support announced that staff would not get paid extra for working on Christmas Day. In a rather Scrooge-like move, the company has said that it only pays people extra for working on bank holidays; as Christmas Day falls on a Saturday this year, staff who cover it will only get the standard Saturday rate. Those on duty on Monday the 27th (when there actually is a bank holiday) will be paid extra.

It does seem a rather mean-spirited way of doing business, but it is entirely legally correct - unless an individual's contract says so, there's no obligation to pay someone extra for working on Christmas Day if the day itself is not a bank holiday. And looking at it from the employer's point of view, paying people extra to work for four days - the 25th and 26th as they're 'special', plus the 27th and 28th as they're bank holidays - could have been very expensive. Most years they'd only have to pay for two days, after all.

But still, you can see how it would have made for a nice little "Scrooge bosses ban Christmas" story about heartless penny-pinching managers. It'd last for one day, only appear in one paper and would be swiftly forgotten. But unfortunately the company's HR manager, Mick Green, triggered great joy throughout tabloidland when he tried to dig his way out of the hole with this statement:

"We have a strong ethical belief in equality and diversity and are unable to recognise one religious festival over others. Our policy is not to pay extra when staff work during a religious festival. We would like to stress that many of our office-based staff will also be working over the Christmas period in order to support staff in our homes during this busy time."

In a speech last week Theresa May said "equality has become a dirty word" and there's nowhere it's considered dirtier than in the British media. When coupled with its twin sister / civil partner "diversity", it sets alarm bells ringing the length and breadth of Fleet Street.

Metro kicked things off with:

An Xmas bonus? That's not fair!
A chain of care homes is refusing to pay it staff overtime for working on Christmas Day, saying it would discriminate against other religions.

Except of course they haven't banned "Christmas bonuses", just the extra rate for people working on the day itself. Metro has absolutely no way of knowing whether staff at this chain of care homes get paid an end-of-year one-off bonus or not. It's a similar story at Metro's Associated stablemate the Daily Mail:

Overtime pay at Christmas axed - it discriminates against the other religions, say care home bosses
A chain of care homes is refusing to pay its staff overtime this Christmas - claiming that it would discriminate against other religions.

Note that Mr Green's statement does not say at any point that "paying people a Christmas bonus would discriminate against other religions." He doesn't even use the words "discriminate". He simply says that the company doesn't pay anyone extra for working on any religious holidays, and Christmas is a religious holiday. But that's not going to stop the media using it to prop up their "other religions are stopping us being Christian" meme. But twisting words in this manner isn't a habit confined to the tabloids, as the Telegraph is keen to prove:

Staff told overtime for Christmas is 'unethical'
A chain of care homes is refusing to pay its staff overtime for working Christmas because it claims the move would discriminate against other religions.

Again, the quote marks in the headline are totally unjustified. Mr Green has not said it's "unethical" to pay a Christmas bonus at all. He mentioned the firm's "strong ethical belief in equality" as the reason for the "not recognising any religious festivals" policy, so it could be implied that paying a Christmas bonus would be a breach of this and therefore could be considered unethical. But it's a pretty big leap and, crucially, is not something that Mr Green actually said. So why put something in quote marks if it's not actually a quotation?

But the prize for most OTT treatment goes to the Daily Star, which manages to trump the competition with this effort:

'We can't upset other faiths'

PC-CRAZY bosses are refusing to pay overtime at Christmas because it will "upset" other faiths.

We then get quotes from "furious" workers who "blast" the move as "political correctness gone mad" all without actually saying they're furious or calling it "political correctness gone mad". And of course the Star have completely made up the quote from the barmy PC bosses - at no point has the company said the overtime rules are in place to avoid "upsetting" other faiths, but this doesn't stop Daily Star "journalist" Paul Robins putting the word "upset" in quotation marks. Twice. But why shouldn't he? After all, just last week the PCC ruled that the Mail had done nothing wrong when it lied to its readers by claiming that a cafe had been forced to remove an extractor fan in case the smell of bacon "offends passing Muslims". With that kind of rigorous approach to truth being encouraged by the industry regulator, why should any journalists trouble themselves with the traditional "not making shit up" part of their trade?

Still, I suppose it's a small mercy that the Star hadn't gone for "Muslims" instead of "other faiths". Also, bonus points to the Star and Metro for using "Xmas" in the headline while trying to claim that Britain is a Christian country and that Christmas is all about religion. Quite a few Christians get somewhat offended by the use of "Xmas" as it removes the "Christ" part of the construction, which is rather important if you're into the religious aspect of the day.

Anyway, it's worth acquainting yourself with the facts of this case now, as I've no doubt that Littlejohn and his cut-price copycats will be flogging this one for all its worth between now and the end of December.

1 comment:

Richard T said...

Speaking as retired head of HR for a scottish council this is a nightmare but can be sensibly sorted out. Contractually the extra benefit is for a bank holiday - hence Monday and Tuesday but the days which should attract compensation are Christmas Day and to an extent Boxing Day - in Scotland we have this a second time for Hogmanay. We eventually offered a deal which let the staff choose the days and the majority settled for the 25th and 26th. It didn't stop those due to work on the 27th and 28th from moaning of course but they had no leg to stand on. The next year we renegotiated the contracts so that they were all on 7/365 working time and got nothing extra for bank holidays which were added to annual holiday.

easy when you apply sense.